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This is a few links. Last week, Seth Godin put to words something I’ve felt for a few years:

Here’s a trick that’s as old as the web: Run a popularity contest with public voting. It could be anything from a listing of the top blogs to a creative contest for best tagline or ad.

The nominees run around like crazy, hoping to get their friends to vote. Which of course brings you more traffic.

My feeling is that most of the time the cause is too thin and the prize is too lame. If your blog gets picked as the most popular woodworking blog by some other blog, it’s really unlikely that you’ll find many benefits other than a nice smile for your ego.

Traffic Magnets

Coincidentally, I came across an older piece on Dreamhost about sites that “rank” the best web hosting services… entirely based upon how much money they can extort for their publicity. Like Seth’s piece, the topic is serious, but the writing is very amusing.

Now it’s all clear. Our $97 affliate payment is small potatoes but they’re eager to work with us! Let’s earn their trust by showing up on that Editor’s Pick page. $299 for a month? Whateva! We’ll pay you $349 to show you we’re serious.

May 1st rolled around and we set our sights a little higher. We asked what it would take to appear in the coveted front page Top 10 list.

Web Hosting’s Dirty Laundry

I love Dreamhost. I really do. Not only has the service been great, but the various update announcements they sent me look like they were written by a bunch of San Fransisco techno-hippies.

And finally, I came across this gem on Joel on Software, talking about the frustration on modern programming frameworks. Benji uses the task of building a kitchen spice rack to illuminate just how ridiculous some frameworks get.

So I go to the hardware store to buy the tools, and I ask the sales clerk where I can find a hammer.

“A hammer?” he asks. “Nobody really buys hammers anymore. They’re kind of old fashioned.”

Surprised at this development, I ask him why.

Why I Hate Frameworks

This last article continued so far past the point of absurdity that I laughed my head off.

I’m no fan of posts about the Top 5 thisses or Top 10 thats, but even I can hold out against the tide for so long.

The Top 5 Top 5 Blog Posts EVAR!

  1. The Recycled – this list will be comprised of only of points that you’ve seen in other lists, almost definitely in the same order. Under no circumstances will credit be given.
  2. The Obvious – One mind-numbingly obvious point after another, with an “ooh aren’t I so helpful” attitude suffused throughout.
  3. The Infuriating – makes claims of being “The definitive top five ____ ever!”, while replacing several absolutely crucial entries with whatever the uninformed author sees fit.
  4. The Anti-funny – not only is this list not funny, but it’s trying so desperately that reading it is like losing a piece of your soul… to Carrot Top.
  5. The Repetitive – a rundown of slightly different wordings of the same point that even a ward of OCD patients would disregard as just too damned repetitive. In other words, each item is pretty much the same, but worded slightly differently. Or you could say they’re repetitive.
  6. +1!!!

  7. The Neverending – has useless extra items tacked on at the end, prolonging the suffering even further.

Related Post: Good God are There a Lot of Morons on Digg

I’ve recently discovered that all the comments I’ve made on Reddit.com for over a month have been invisible to the rest of the world. I had no idea, though, because reddit makes it look like they’re visible by displaying them to me while I’m logged in.

Reddit Deceived Me 2

If you click through to Zooomr, I’ve set up some portals on the picture that illustrate what I’m talking about. On the left browser, I’m logged in as “xiaoma”, and my comment is visible. On the right side, I’m not logged in, and my comment is mysteriously missing.

I knew I’d been spending a bit much time reading and “participating” in reddit comment threads recently… but when I found out that all that time was spent in vain, it felt like I’d been punched in the gut. All this time I thought I was engaging with a discussion with netizens the world over, but instead, I’ve been typing in a vacuum.

Reddit, I used to be your biggest fan, but now I feel unclean even linking to you. Either your code is buggy, or you banned my account (except for my submission that hit #1). I can’t even fathom why my account would have been gagged, either. I’ve been reading through my comment history and both less profane and more thought out than most of what I see in the comment threads. You need look no further than the profane comment right below mine that wasn’t censored to see what I’m talking about.

Update 10/13/2007: It appears that Reddit is up to some other kinds of “covert” censorship.

Update 10/14/2007: My comments have mysteriously re-appeared, and this story has equally mysteriously been deleted from Reddit.

Update 10/21/2007: Now, reddit shows all my comments as “deleted”… unless I’m logged in, in which case it looks like nothing’s wrong. This whole business of trying to deceive the user is ridiculous.

Update 10/31/2007: The comments are visible again.

I’ll never forget the first time I met a conversation partner in Taiwan. She said, “你看起來像電影裡面…的壞人!” Not sure whether I should take it as a compliment or not, I asked her why. She said that guys with shaved heads and goatees and darker skin are always the bad guys. At the time, I was a bit concerned my appearance could be hurting my job hunt, so I grew out my hair a bit, and shaved the goatee.

Well, now my goatee’s back, my hair’s short and I am going to be a bad guy in a movie! On Saturday night, I headed into town, met up with Poagao and friends, and they filmed me in a bit part as one of the evil madman’s private guards. They dressed me up in black pants, a shirt three sizes too small, a flack jacket and a beret. The flack jacket hid my pudge and the tight shirt showed off my fairly large upper body. I got to forcibly restrain the super-spy (before he cut his bonds with a knife he palmed without my noticing, killed one of the villains and escaped), lug around an automatic and look imposing. Yeah. I’m a 電影裡面的壞人.

bodyguard

The only problem is that filming went from 10PM to 5AM, and I pretty much lost coherence at 3AM. I sure hope I didn’t look like a tired evil guard. Also there’s the issue of the fact that my character failed absolutely and completely. Allowing the hero to palm a knife, cut his bonds and kill fellow bad guys sure isn’t likely to fly well with most ruthless overlords. I’m sure my character will be executed for his incompetence.

See the trailer for the movie on Poagao’s site. No, I’m not in it.

I’m quite aware that some bloggers are ranting that Google must be evil just for creating a google.cn domain that filters search results according to Chinese law (and alerts users as to why results have been removed). Many of the same bloggers are simply confused or mis-reporting news. Google follows the laws all over the world, and I don’t see that as a particularly evil thing.

Every country has some things they insist on blocking. Most of Europe is still sensitive about Nazi propaganda, for example. In the US, quite a few things are blocked due to anti-pornography laws, and very strong IP laws . Yes, some search results on google.cn will be blocked if you search for “falun gong”. The same is true, (though no longer on the front page), of searching on “scientology” in Germany, where Scientology is banned. I really can’t see how not providing information to people, and telling them that they can’t due to the law, is “evil”.

Another point is, people in China can still go to google.com and see the exact same search results that US users do. Furthermore, google.cn is the only search in China that I know of that actually tells users when search results are blocked by the government. Unlike giving the government information about dissidents (a la Yahoo), not serving all search requests does no direct harm to the user. In cases where direct harm could come to the user through government subpoena, such as Gmail, Google simply doesn’t offer service in China. If this way of doing business is “evil”, then all of the frothing “let’s boycott Google” hoards need a new word to describe just what Yahoo, Microsoft and the rest of Google’s competitors are.

Today, I saw a Slate article on the Blackberry patent case linked on Slashdot. This quote is priceless:

It’s easy to bash trolls as evil extortionists, to do so may be to miss an important lesson: Patent trolls aren’t evil, but rational and predictable, akin to the mold that eventually grows on rotten meat. They’re useful for understanding how the world of software patent got to where it is and what might be done to fix it.

I actually do think patent trolls are evil, but the moldy meat description isn’t half bad either.

Tonight I was able to borrow my uncle’s car and drive up to Boulder. I got to see my old roommate and running partner Matt, Mike, and Warren. Warren went to high school with me, but I didn’t really get to know any of these guys well until college. Still, they all ended up becoming great friends, especially Matt who I probably hung out with more than anyone else I knew in college. Matt’s wife Nicole (another old friend of all of ours) was there, too. She wasn’t feeling too well, so we didn’t chat much. I made a horrible blunder calling their baby “he” when it was a she. It probably had something to do with the downright evil way Matt used her for part of his Halloween costume last year. Hopefully nobody’s feelings were hurt!
DSC00001
We all went out to eat at a nearby Mexican restaurant, and had a pretty good conversation. It spanned everything from the morality and ethics question on my blog a few posts ago to eugenics, twin studies, and imbalances in sports betting. I meant to ask Mike why the heck he’s back in school going for an undergrad EE after already having earned an M.A. in Physics from UC Santa Barbara, but I forgot. He got married recently, and he’s been setting up a pretty neat charity in Guatemala. Warren’s got a drive failure analysis job that jets him back and forth between Boulder and Singapore. It sounded pretty cool. After dinner we went back to Matt’s place for some more chatting, and catching up. He had a neat stack of Rubick’s cubes there- a 2×2, a 3×3, a 4×4 and a 5×5. Having already solved the 3×3, I figured the 2×2 would be trivial. It really wasn’t. I got one layer solved pretty quickly, but I didn’t manage the right sequence to rotate the pieces on the bottom. I’ve got to pick up some of those.

Sometimes it’s hard not to wonder how we got from there to here. How did Bill Gates end up becoming the richest and arguably most powerful man on the planet? For anyone old enough to remember computers before the Microsoft era, it’s pretty amazing. At pretty much every step along the way they’ve had the inferior product, but still managed to prevail due to “sharp” business practices. Here’s a time-line of how MS has used leveraged monopolies to win in markets they couldn’t otherwise dominate.

Digital Research Inc.

In the early 90’s, DRDOS rose up as a popular OS. At the time, the market had been split between a clunky IBMDOS and MSDOS. Digital Research’s product, DRDOS had features that were clearly superior to the competitors. Most notably, DRDOS 6.0 was not bound by 640k ram limit that hobbled MSDOS. According to Microsoft’s own documents and internal email messages, DR DOS 6 was a superior product to their own upcoming “MS DOS 6”, it was cheaper, and it would be out first. Fortunately for them, Windows 3.1 was a big hit. All they had to do to save the OS was break the law.

Microsoft’s David Cole emailed Phil Barrett on September 30 1991:

“It’s pretty clear we need to make sure Windows 3.1 only runs on top of MS DOS or an OEM version of it,” and “The approach we will take is to detect DR DOS 6 and refuse to load. The error message should be something like ‘Invalid device driver interface.”

Sure enough, that did the trick. By leveraging one monopoly, and lying to customers who called tech-support, MS defended their OS market.

Novell

Novell acquired WordPerfect in March 1994. At the time, WordPerfect was the undisputed standard in word processing. Try as it might, Microsoft simply couldn’t make head way with its MSword. In fact, even after windows 3.1 was in wide use, WordPerfect 5.0/5.1 for DOS was hugely popular. People liked it enough to buy a DOS word processor, even though they had already paid for windows.

However, things changed sharply with the release of Windows 95. After crushing Digital Research and IBM, Microsoft truly had monopolistic power in the domain of operating systems. Microsoft used this power to steal the word processing market, and this is how: they closely guarded their APIs until Windows 95 was released, and they shipped Word for Windows on the same day. It took Novell months to perfect a Windows 95 version of WordPerfect, and in that time they lost their market share. To be sure, many loyal WP users continued to buy their product. However, with MS Office shipped pre-installed on so many computers, it was not possible to regain their market… regardless of which product was “better”.

Netscape

In 1996, the Netscape Navigator was the ubiquitous browser of the new-born web generation, Marc Andreesen’s picture was on the cover of Time Magazine, and a new era was beginning. Microsoft’s had completely underestimated the web and feared for its future. First, it acquired one of Netscape’s competitors, and then it improved it and marketed it as the “Internet Explorer”. IE was a complete failure for over two years. Netscape was the standard, and its built-in javascript was a hit.

Microsoft had a solution, though. All it had to do was break the law… again. Microsoft bundled Internet Explorer into Windows 98. After that, everyone who had Windows (over 90% of all computer users), would have IE immediately and not have to download anything. Microsoft could afford to do this of course, because it made billions on its OS and word processing markets. Netscape on the other hand, found it impossible to compete with “free” and “pre-installed”. Especially since Microsoft bullied vendors who tried to pre-install it. IE won and then Microsoft, despite all of its claims of innovation, stopped adding features into IE for years. Mozilla has had tabbed browsing and javascript pop-up blocking for five years, but IE still doesn’t. Only the recent threat from the Mozilla foundation’s Firefox has got them started working on it again.

Real Media

In mid 1999, Real Media was had over 85% of the video on demand market. It was high flying IT company making waves in both the tech and general media. Both Apple and Microsoft made competing products, Apple Quicktime and the Windows Media Player, but neither were making much headway. What did Microsoft do? Can you guess? They bundled it into the OS! What does breaking the Sherman Anti-Trust act matter one more time after doing it so profitably for so long, anyway? Windows ME, had the Windows Media Player built into the OS. It can’t be uninstalled, and it’s the default choice for any video content. Real is currently on a long downhill slide, and will likely never again be dominant.

ICQ/AOL/Korea’s previously dominant messenger

Once again, Microsoft took a product in a market in which they were losing badly and bundled it into the OS. While Microsoft still trails ICQ/AOL Instant Messenger (which merged), it’s only a matter of time. Everyone who buys a windows based computer (which make up well over 90% of PCs) has the MSN Instant Messenger. Messenging being what it is, you have to use the same software everyone else does. I give it two years tops before Microsoft owns this market, and innovation in it grinds to a standstill.

Personally, I hope the EU grows a pair of balls that the US didn’t have and punishes MS for each and every law they’ve broken. As for Korea… it’s hard to say. Microsoft has suggested that it could simply stop selling in Korea. I’m sure it won’t come to that as the last thing they want to do is drive a tech-loving, mostly developed country into the arms of Apple or open source, but a small country doesn’t have the kind of power it takes to restrain Microsoft.